The county seat of Alfalfa County, Cherokee is located in the approximate center of the county on State Highway 8 two miles south of U.S. Highway 64/State Highway 11. In the mid-nineteenth century present Alfalfa County lay within the Cherokee Outlet. It had been used primarily for cattle pasturage until 1890, before the September 1893 land opening. When counties were created in 1893, future Cherokee lay within Woods County.
Kansas developers wanted to convince railroads to build through the newly opened territory to market its huge wheat crops. The Kansas City and Oklahoma Construction Company built a grade south from Anthony, Kansas. Their Cherokee Investment Company also purchased one hundred acres, platted the town of Cherokee on the route, and held a lot sale on February 9, 1901. On February 10, 1903, residents celebrated the arrival of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad (later owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), under construction southward across the county's center. Afterward, entrepreneurs of nearby Erwin moved their buildings northwest to Cherokee. The Erwin post office was redesignated Cherokee in March 1903 with Clarence E. Wood as postmaster. Cherokee incorporated in July 1901. The developers enticed a second railroad with a ten-thousand-dollar bonus and free town lots, and the Denver, Enid and Gulf constructed a line through the community in late 1905. The Santa Fe later acquired that trackage. By 1907 Cherokee's population had risen to 964 and by 1910 to 2,016.
The community became a dominant regional commercial center for agricultural services, banking, wholesale-retail trade, and transportation. Smaller surrounding communities, such as Ingersoll, Burlington, Driftwood, Byron, and Amorita, relied on Cherokee's commercial ventures for access to larger markets. In 1907 Alfalfa County was created with Cherokee as its county seat, a permanent location after a January 1909 election, and in March the town's incorporation was confirmed. By 1909 Cherokee had three banks, flour, alfalfa, and planing mills, a concrete block works, a school desk factory, and three newspapers, as well as Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Friends churches.
Like many early-twentieth-century Western towns, Cherokee fanned out around a railroad depot, in this case, around two depots. The Orient depot stood at the west end of Main Street, the Santa Fe depot at the east end. In 1901 the Choctaw Northern had built its line a few miles west of town in order to attract farmers' business to its new town of Ingersoll. Cherokee had a population of 2,017 in 1920. A new high school building was completed in 1921, and a bond election provided for a new courthouse completed in 1924. Various industries provided employment: Cherokee Mills Company stored wheat and produced flour, McDowell Standard Battery Company maintained a factory, and an ice plant and planing mill operated.
By the time of the Great Depression Cherokee was an important urban and trading center. Community development projects in the 1920s included street improvements, improved water supply, and so forth. Oil-field activity in the county during 1928-29 and again in the mid-1930s fueled prosperity. A half-dozen oil companies maintained storage batteries adjacent to the rail yards. The Orient Hotel, the Hotel Henderson, the Ideal Hotel, and Jobe's Hotel served travelers. The depression brought about a new kind of promotional activity, and business owners worked hard to attract conventions, including the Oklahoma State Holiness Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the 4-H Clubs in 1933, the Baptist Association and the Tri-County Masonic Association in 1935, and the Oklahoma Press Association Regional Meeting and the Northwestern Oklahoma Baptist Association Annual Dinner in 1936. In addition, sporting activities, primarily bird-hunting expeditions in the Salt Plains area, brought in hundreds of tourists. The population grew from 2,236 to 2,553 between 1930 and 1940. Numerous residential additions doubled the physical size of the town, which expanded south and east.
A description of Cherokee in 1936 noted that the town sustained five groceries, two department stores, eleven gasoline stations, two bakeries, five garages, nine restaurants, two banks, two hardware stores, five automobile dealerships, three lumber yards, and about two dozen other retail businesses. Four grain elevators operated. An ice cream factory was in business. The Alfalfa County News and the Cherokee Messenger informed the public. Children attended a high school and a grade school, both in fairly new buildings. Federal projects during the New Deal era included a National Guard armory and a public library constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1936-37 and 1939, respectively. The armory is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 88001371).
While the years before and after World War II did not bring overwhelming prosperity to Cherokee, the town survived the depression in better commercial shape than many other communities. Although the county's first hospital was established in Aline by the Masonic Association, it was moved to Cherokee in 1918 and after 1976 served as a county-operated facility. After a peak of 2,635 in 1950, the number of residents declined to 2,410 in 1960. However, in 1970, 125 business operated in the town of 2,119 inhabitants, and the city opened a new industrial development park in that decade. In the last two decades of the century the town experienced continued population loss, reaching 2,105 in 1980 and 1,787 in 1990. The Santa Fe maintained its trunk line north-south through the mid-1990s, and its east-west line became part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe system at that time but ceased operations soon afterward.
The National Register of Historic Places lists several local properties: the Hotel Cherokee (NR 98000200), the Farmers' Federation Elevator (NR 83004153), the Cherokee IOOF Lodge building (NR 84002953), the Friends Church (NR 04001337), and the Alfalfa County Courthouse (NR 84002937). Eleven churches and one newspaper serve residents. Cherokee operates under a city manager form of government and maintains three parks and a swimming pool. The 2000 census reported 1,630 residents.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: F. E. Cheadle, "A Bit of Ancient History," Cherokee (Oklahoma) Republican, 19 October 1928. "Cherokee," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Frank Garner, "Alfalfa County Builds on Solid Farm Economy," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 24 June 1962. Our Alfalfa County Heritage, 1893-1976 (N.p.: Alfalfa County Historical Society, 1976). L. R. Smith, A History of Cherokee, Oklahoma, and Vicinity, 1893-1907 (N.p.: L. R. Smith, n.d.).
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